Connecting with Civil Rights

Alexis Karteron, who honed her advocacy skills at two of the nation’s top legal nonprofits and as the director of a civil rights clinic, works for greater justice in the criminal legal system.

Alexis Karteron
Alexis Karteron

By her own description, Alexis Karteron was naive about modern civil rights legal practice when she started working part-time as an undergraduate for Harvard University’s Civil Rights Project. Karteron says she had assumed that civil rights litigation was largely a bygone 1960s phenomenon. But her college job, which allowed her to interact with prominent civil rights attorneys from around the country, convinced her to make civil rights law her career.

Two decades later, Karteron is a leading clinical teacher who most recently directed the Constitutional Rights Clinic at Rutgers Law School before joining the NYU Law faculty this summer as a professor of clinical law. Karteron will teach the Civil Rights in the Criminal Legal System Clinic.

Professor Jon Dubin ’81, who served as Rutgers’s director and dean of clinical education from 2002 to 2022, says that Karteron is “extraordinarily interpersonally nimble and finds ways to connect with people throughout the spectrum of our student body [and] our faculty as well…. I’m so happy for her and proud of my alma mater for seeing the brilliance that she’s going to bring to the table.”

After graduating from Harvard University and Stanford Law School, followed by a clerkship with Judge Marsha Berzon of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Karteron began a four-year NAACP LDF–Fried Frank Civil Rights Fellowship: two years as a litigation associate at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson and two years handling voting rights issues full-time at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. A stint as an associate staff secretary in the White House’s Office of the Staff Secretary followed, and then Karteron returned to legal practice in her native New York City at the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU).

Her work at the NYCLU ran the gamut: a federal class action targeting the New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) stop-and-frisk practices, a case alleging that officers in the NYPD’s School Safety Division wrongfully arrested students and used excessive force, and First Amendment matters concerning the right to film police activity and access to government reports on jail conditions, among other endeavors. “I really do like having a diverse practice and diverse kinds of cases,” says Karteron. “The work at the NYCLU opened my eyes to the work in the criminal legal system that I now spend all my time on.”

Watch: Alexis Karteron discusses her career path.

In 2016, Karteron joined the Rutgers faculty after teaching as an adjunct professor of clinical law at NYU Law from 2013 to 2015. At NYU Law, Karteron co-taught the Civil Rights Clinic as well as the New York Civil Liberties Clinic. NYCLU legal director Christopher Dunn, her Civil Rights Clinic co-teacher, deems her “an ideal colleague. She’s whip-smart, she’s creative, and she’s a nice person, which is not a bad combination,” he says, adding, “She did a wonderful job of putting together and leading cases that made sense for the students to be able to participate in and have meaningful roles…. She views the law as something to use to change the world, and I think that will be a great thing that she brings to NYU.”

In the coming academic year, Karteron and her clinic students will focus on cases involving the criminal legal system, and in particular the rights of those in prison and on parole. As a visiting professor at NYU Law last year, Karteron worked with her students on a class action against the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision that alleged the department had failed to adhere to a 2021 legislative act banning prolonged solitary confinement.

Watch: Alexis Karteron on what makes NYU Law students special

As Karteron sees it, she’s not the only instructor in the clinic. “We’re very often working with people who are incarcerated who don’t have high levels of formal education,” she says. “It would be easy to think that we are the ones who have all the answers about their cases, and it’s a really special moment as a teacher to see when students realize that, in fact, they have quite a bit to learn from their clients.”

Posted September 11, 2023